“There is nothing like having someone there who can support you and care for you” says Chris, 24 years old, CEO of a local music label. For Chris, having a permanent loving home was not always guaranteed. Chris’s life in the foster care system began at three years old. He was placed into foster care after his birth father passed away and his mother no longer had the physical or emotional means to properly care for him. For the next thirteen years, Chris bounced from foster home to foster home and he eventually found himself in the Boys and Girls Home. There he met his soon-to-be foster brother, Stephen. At the age of sixteen, Chris and Stephen met their new foster mom, Deloris. Deloris welcomed both boys into her home. For the first time in thirteen years, Chris had his forever family.
In Virginia, the majority of children in foster care who are available for adoption do not find a permanent loving home. At 18 years old a teen in foster care “ages out” of the system. Of the children 12 and older who entered foster care between 2012 and 2016, only 46 percent found a permanent and loving home before aging out. Although they are eligible for some benefits until they are 21, they have missed the chance to have the structure, support, and love that a family offers. Unfortunately, the results are devastating. One out of two youth who age out of the foster care system will struggle with substance abuse or dependence. Half of all youth who age out of foster care will not have gainful employment by the time they are 24. Many will become homeless.
Virginia is ranked 48 out of 50 states for placing children in foster care into permanent loving homes. Today, there are over 5300 Virginia children in foster care and 957 children in foster care who are available for adoption and looking for their forever family.
Connecting Hearts at JFS is part of the solution. Connecting Hearts helps find families looking to adopt and raises awareness about the option to adopt children currently in foster care. Jessica Carty, LCSW, Connecting Hearts Liaison explains, “Connecting Hearts serves to fill the gap so that children find their families and parents find their children.”
May is Foster Care Awareness Month. Jessica describes Foster Care Awareness Month as, “an important reminder to the community as well as professionals that our mission to find a loving home for each child through reunifying with birth parents, placing with other relatives (kinship care), and adoption is an ongoing process. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness, not only about the kids in foster care, but how we can help them heal and succeed after they find their forever family.”
Thanks to a grant from the Rotary Club of Richmond, this May Connecting Hearts will host a match event at Launch Trampoline Park. This is a unique and interactive way to help children and teens get to know prospective foster families without the formality of sitting across the table from one another with stacks of paper between them. If you are a family with an approved home study or in the home study process, come meet the available children and have fun on Sunday, May 19th at Launch.
Be sure to visit your local library in May to see Connecting Hearts’ Heart Gallery! The Heart Galley displays stories and photos of a few of Virginia’s children who are currently available for adoption. At the Heart Gallery you will meet Mark. Mark is kind and genuine 13 year old. He enjoys writing stories and takes notes of things here and there to add to them. Mark likes to read and his favorite book is “The Trials of Apollo.” Mark likes making crafts out of paper, playing with animals, and video games. His favorite is Pikachu from Pokémon and other animated shows. Mark hopes to be a police offer when he grows up. Foster Care Awareness doesn’t end in May. You can meet other children in foster care with the Heart Gallery all year long in Richmond restaurants, museums, and more!
Let’s help Mark find his forever family and ensure stories like Chris’s are the rule, not the exception. To learn more about how to become a foster or adoptive parent, contact Will Pitzer, Connecting Hearts at JFS Program Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 804-308-5946.